A Quick Guide to an OSHA Inspection

A Quick Guide to an OSHA Inspection

It’s understandable to feel stressed when thinking about being inspected by OSHA. Thankfully, OSHA has made strides to ensure employers have the necessary information to feel adequately prepared.

Along with reference materials such as the OSHA Inspection Fact Sheet, OSHA is now offering a free safety and health consultation program for small and medium-sized businesses. The on-site consultations are separate from enforcement, which means you’ll receive completely confidential advice and no penalties or citations will be issued. The only obligation you have is to correct serious job safety and health hazards found.

If your organization is too large to qualify for the service, or if you simply feel confident preparing on your own, here’s a quick overview of what to expect.

Probable Cause

First and foremost, OSHA has to have what they consider to be “probable cause” to inspect your business. The OSHA inspector will let you know why he/she is there which usually falls within one of three categories: an employee complaint, an accident has occurred, or you’ve been selected as a programmed inspection in which worksites are randomly chosen based on emphasis programs, injury rates or previous citations. Often supporting documentation will also be provided such as a copy of the employee complaint.

Information Request

Following the opening conference will be a series of questions to help familiarize the inspector with your facility, including:

- Type of work performed
- Number of employees
- Names of those in charge
- Contact information

The inspector will also be looking for official documentation related to the inspection purpose such as injury and illness logs or safety data sheets which you’ll be expected to provide in a timely manner.

The Limits of the Inspection

The OSHA inspector is only allowed to inspect things that are within the “scope” of the hazard area. For example, if the inspector is investigating chemical hazards, he/she shouldn’t be rifling through files at the reception desk. Though there is an exception. Anything that is in “plain view” is fair game for an inspection. If the inspector is walking through the production floor on the way to the site of an accident and observes a safety violation, then you can be cited for that as well.

Your Rights

You always have the right to refuse the inspection but preparing in advance and welcoming the inspection is always your best option. In the unfortunate event that you experience an inspection resulting in a citation, you also reserve the right to contest the alleged violations and/or penalties by sending a written notice to the Area Director within 15 working days the citation is issued.

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